Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wang's consistency cuts both ways

Chien-Ming Wang is all about consistency.

There's nothing cool about consistency. He's not in any commercials. He won't win an ESPY. He'll never be on the cover of the media guide. But where consistency lacks in cool, it makes up for in comfort. And in sports, consistency and the comfort that it brings is a trait teams crave.

Wang, the Taiwanese legend, is no exception. He's been the one rock in the Yankees' perpetually patchwork rotation since his breakout 2006 season. He finished second in the AL Cy Young voting and won 19 games that season; his encore in 2007 resulted in 19 more victories. He was on the same track in '08 before a fateful trip around the bases in Houston derailed both him and the Yankees.

There's nothing sexy about how Wang piles up all those W's. It's just sinker, sinker, sinker until you ground out to second. A rudimentary formula, sure, but then again so is Mariano Rivera's. Wang is a known entity, a steady performer. As far as No. 2 starters go, you can't do much better.

But it's important to keep in mind that Wang is wholly capable of delivering a poor performance without any semblence of a warning. Sure, every pitcher has his bad days -- CC Sabathia was living proof of that on Monday. But when Chien-Ming Wang has a bad day, he really, really has a bad day.

I remember sitting in the right field upper deck for Game 4 of the 2007 ALDS, unknowingly taking in the final playoff game ever played at the old Stadium. Wang was destroyed by the Indians in the opener of that series, and the same thing happened on that unseasonbly warm evening in the Bronx. The Lake Eire midges may have gotten to Joba Chamberlain during Game 2, but on that night Wang's flat sinker was the only nuisance destroying New York's World Series dreams.

That's the thing about Wang. He's consistently good, of course. But that stinker is always bubbling under the surface, lurking like paparazzi outside Lindsay Lohan's front door. Wednesday was another example of this. Seven runs, nine hits, three walks, zero strikeouts over 3 2/3 innings in the Yanks' 7-5 loss to the Orioles. A 17.18 ERA after one start is no way to go through life, son.

Wang will bounce back, of course, because he's a high-quality pitcher and that's what high-quality pitchers do. But his stinker of a sinker provided another reminder to Yankee fans why signing CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett was such a prudent move. As good as Wang can be, there's always that chance that things could go south in the blink of an eye. It's Russian roulette. Six chambers, one bullet. Wednesday we heard the big bang.

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